Nick Clegg has vowed to block the re-introduction of O-levels and CSEs.
According to a Lib-Dem spokesman, " We are very, very hostile to something that looks like it is going to return to the two-tier system of the past". On cue, leaders of our teaching unions have joined the cry against 'elitism'.
Yet as far as I can determine, there wasn't a bat's squeak of protest from any Lib Dem when New Labour introduced NVQs (known in the trade as 'No Value Qualifications) or BTechs as alternative qualifications for the academically-challenged. So long as we could pretend that these were 'equivalent' to GCSEs in Science or History, honour was saved.
Now the curious thing about the outrage that has greeted Gove's proposal is that teachers and even educators have been foaming at the mouth about GCSEs for years, claiming--with considerable justification--that these horrid exams kill pupils' interest in learning. Indeed, they are so lacking in serious academic content that we have been planning to use the International GCSE (generally considered the equivalent of an O-level) at the Phoenix Free School of Oldham. Phoenix will serve one of the most deprived communities in England. The teachers on our steering committee who have taught in inner-city schools reckon that at least three-quarters of our intake will be able to cope with the IGCSE or O-level: so much for 'elitism'.
In fact, elitism has almost nothing to do with Clegg's outrage. The O-levels have totemic signicance in that they were overtly associated with the concept of education as the transmission of knowledge and culture. With many honorable exceptions, educators are largely indifferent or even hostile to a curriculum that has been shaped by the thinking of Dead White European Males. They aren't even very keen on the knowledge and culture of Dead Asian Males, or Dead Women for that matter. That is why they have become educators, and not teachers. As often as not, the latter have degrees in academic subjects and a natural inclination to impart this knowledge.
Alas, it would seem that Gove has made himself very unpopular by listening to teachers instead of educators. Clegg, it seems, would never be so gauche. No doubt he would fully approve of the Discovery Academy in Staffordshire, where 14-year-old pupils were instructed to imagine that they were terminally ill, and to write a farewell letter to their parents. This was part and parcel of the emotional-literacy curriculum introduced by New Labour. One pupil's letter was so badly written that his parents mistook it for a suicide note. The school apologised for the distress caused, but claimed that the exercise "garnered a largely positive response."
In reference to this incident, educational psychologist Mike Hyams claimed that it was important that "children and young people have an opportunity to share and express their feelings". Mr Hyams overlooks the inconvenient fact that the 'feelings' in this exercise were entirely bogus. Rather like Nick Clegg's outrage.
Roll on the O-levels!